The Use of Plants in Ancient Rituals: New Perspectives from Paleoethnobotany

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

It is only recently that systematic palaeoethnobotanical studies have begun to be adopted as key components in the study of ancient ritual practices. This approach represents an important innovation for highlighting the role of the "natural world" in ceremonies of the past, as well as providing an additional perspective for understanding the ancient worldviews that were embodied in such practices. Palaeoethnobotanical approaches also constitute a key tool for reconstructing the chaine opératoire of the deposits that result from ritual practices, particularly when compared with other associated artifacts and ecofacts. Fine-scale analysis of archaeobotanical remains from ritual contexts has already proved essential for reconstructing the behaviors and often meticulous actions involved in the construction of ritual sequences. This analytic approach thus represents an essential stage for achieving a broader understanding of the socio-cultural, political and ecological aspects of ritual practices. Our symposium aims to present and discuss new theoretical and methodological approaches in the study of ancient ritual practices in the Americas that are symbolically or materially related to the vegetal world.

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  • Documents (14)

  • Analytical Approaches for Identifying Ritual Contexts (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Amber VanDerwarker.

    Paleoethnobotanists continue to push plants into the realm of social archaeology, particularly in terms of examining how plants articulated with ancient ritual practices. The examination of the connection between plants and ritual, however, is not a straightforward process—researchers must first appropriately identify special contexts and/or foods, after which they must attribute meaning to the contexts and events they have identified. This presentation focuses on the first step – identification...

  • Ancient woods used in a ritual context at Chenque I cemetery (Pampean region, Argentina) (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sonia Archila Montanez. Mónica Berón. Gabriela Musaubach. Martha Mejía. Eliana Lucero.

    Empirical evidence of ancient ritual practices is not often found in many archaeological sites. This complex ideological aspect of past human societies has usually been reported in association with the presence of monuments such as sculptures, tombs, funeral mounds, temples and shrines and also with particular artefacts used during ceremonies and rituals such as ceramic, stone or metal vessels, musical instruments and so on. Archaeobotanical evidence could contribute enormously to the study of...

  • Ashes to ashes, dust to dust : the role of wood in ancient maya funerary sequences (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Hemmamuthé Goudiaby. Lydie Dussol.

    From 2014 to 2016, the intensive excavation of the residential unit 5N6 in Naachtun (Guatemala) has yielded 13 burials intricately linked with the evolution of the architecture. Put together, these funerary contexts allow for a fine-scale reconstruction of the local dynamics and everyday life in the unit. However, funerary archaeologists often fail to consider the burial itself as a micro-context, a combination of significant gestures and actions that can be analyzed using the same principles as...

  • Ceremonial and Psychotropic Plants of the Tiwanaku (AD 500-1000): New Evidence for Erythroxylum Coca and Anadenanthera Colubrina from the Omo Temple in Moquegua, Peru. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Giacomo Gaggio. Paul Goldstein.

    The consumption of psychotropic substances is a ceremonial practice widespread worldwide since antiquity, however, archaeological evidence for the role of plants in rituals is scarce and interpretations are mostly derived from ethnographies and iconography. Among other methods of analysis, Paleoethnobotany is one of the most indicated for the finding of micro and macro remains involved in ceremonies. This paper presents the results of a Paleoethnobotanical analysis conducted at the site of Omo...

  • Feeding the Mountain: Plant Remains from Ritual Contexts On and Around Structure M13-1 at El Perú-Waka’ (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Clarissa Cagnato. Olivia Navarro-Farr. Griselda Pérez Robles. Juan Carlos Pérez Calderón. Damaris Menéndez.

    Structure M13-1, a major civic-ceremonial building at the center of the Classic Maya city El Perú-Waka’ in northwestern Petén, Guatemala, held special significance to its citizenry. While it was likely ritually significant since the Early Classic period, evidence indicates it was the focus of sustained and repeated ceremonial acts of likely varying scales, accouterment, and practitioners throughout the Late and Terminal Classic periods (circa A.D. 600-900). In this paper, we explore data from...

  • Fire and feasting. The role of plants in Brazilian shellmounds funerary rituals. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rita Scheel-Ybert.

    Shellmounds occurring along most of the Brazilian coast, locally named "sambaquis", testify of an occupation dated from at least 8000 to c. 1000 years BP. Although traditionally considered as waste deposits, they are now largely recognized as funerary sites constructed by sedentary fishers. The development of archaeobotanical studies in the Southern/Southeastern Brazilian coast is demonstrating the consumption of a wide variety of wild and domesticated plants, pointing to a system of mixed...

  • Flames, Ash, and Charcoal: Paleoethnobotanical Approaches to Understanding the Role of Fire in Postclassic Tarascan Ritual Practices (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michelle Elliott. Grégory Pereira. Mélaine Stevanato.

    Although ethnohistoric sources provide many interesting clues regarding the importance of fire in Postclassic Tarascan rituals, these practices are still not well characterized by archaeologists. We know that fire was omnipresent in Tarascan society, not just for ordinary, daily needs (heating, cooking, light, etc.), but also in a seemingly diverse variety of ritual practice that ranged from the public cremation ceremonies of deceased rulers to more humble household rituals carried out on a...

  • Integrating archaeobotany to provide Insight into domestic and public ritual in southern Brazil (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mark Robinson.

    Archaeobotanical results are integrated with archaeological and paleoecological data for the southern proto-Jê of the southern Brazilian highlands. Results from a domestic structure displays a pattern of architectural termination and renewal that not only uncovers an ancient ritual practice, but also reveals practices of plant management when considered alongside paleoecological data. Within the wider context, the data support a change in the performance of ritual practices revolving around fire...

  • The meaning of the plants around the death: the case of the Offer 149 (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Laura Ortíz. Julia Perez. Ximena Chávez. Emilio Ibarra.

    Each offer in the Tenochtitlan Sacred Enclosure is the representation of a microcosmos that can be understood through the analysis and interpretation of each one of its compounds. An important part of them are the vegetal microremains, floral remains that did not endure trough the pass of the time for its own organic nature but that in the Aztec period had multiple meanings that allowed them to be an frequent material of offering. The Offer 149 is an exceptional case up to the moment, not only...

  • Performing the Moche Feast: Plants, Ritual Practice, and Spectacle in the North Coast of Peru (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Katherine Chiou. Luis Jaime Castillo.

    The site of San José de Moro in the Jequetepeque Valley of the North Coast of Peru is renowned for the discovery of several "Priestess" burials containing women interred with the material accoutrements of the goddess figure from the Moche pantheon. As a burial ground for the Moche elite, San José de Moro presents an excellent case study for ritual performance with burial-related ceremonies taking place concurrently with feasting. In this paper, we discuss the plant evidence for large-scale feast...

    DOCUMENT Citation Only Aurora Montúfar López.

    This paper examines two ritual expresions: the offering 102 of the Aztec Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (1436-1502) and the "promise" to the Santa Cruz or rain petition ceremony in Temalacatzingo, Guerrero, Mexico (2007, 2008 and 2010). It analyzes the consumption of botanical materials, such as copal resin, amaranth seeds, ahuehuete branches, yauhtli flowers, guajes and beans in both rituals. It identifies similarities in the way those materials were used, and proposes that this fact demonstrates...

  • Ritual Fires and Ancient Maya Termination Deposits at Naachtun (Guatemala): An Archaeobotanical Perspective (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lydie Dussol.

    Termination rituals have been a well-documented practice among ancient Maya societies. Generally including the spread of broken artifacts on floors, the manipulation of ancestor bones, and the intentional destruction of architectural structures, termination deposits are believed to have served to symbolically "kill" a building at the time of its abandonment. Regardless of the nature or function of these different deposits, their frequent association with ashes, charcoal and burn marks clearly...

  • Ritual Smoking: Evidence from Archaeological Smoking Pipes (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Linda Scott Cummings. R. A. Varney. Peter Kovacik.

    Answering the question of what was smoked in prehistoric pipes benefits from a multi-proxy approach. Partially charred residue (dottle) provides more answers than does the black carbon that often lines the interior of archaeological pipes. Pipes examined from the American Southwest and Great Basin attest to use of a variety of plants, sometimes including ground maize, as smoking mixtures. Remains within the partially burned dottle are identified by pollen, phytolith, starch, macrofloral, and...

  • The Role of Ritual in Early Food Producing Economies: Seed Keepers and Seed Exchange in Ethnography and in the Archaeological Record of Eastern North America (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Natalie Mueller.

    The ethnographic record is replete with examples of farming societies for whom the maintenance and exchange of seed stock was imbued with ritual significance. Seed keeping is often an institutionalized role for families or individuals: a matter of pride, as aspect of identity, and a heavy responsibility. The establishment of these rituals and institutions may have been crucial to the domestication of annual plants and the development of food producing economies. What would seed keeping and seed...